Eastside law enforcement agencies form task force against catalytic converter thefts

Will introduce program to paint and engrave catalytic converters to deter theft.

Law enforcement agencies from eight different Eastside cities and the King County Sheriff’s Office have come together to form a new task force aimed at mitigating the alarming trend of catalytic converter thefts that is occurring in the region and across the state.

The task force includes police departments from Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell, Redmond, Issaquah, Medina, Clyde Hill and Mercer Island. On Tuesday, March 1, they held a press conference in Bellevue City Hall to outline the focus of the task force and to raise awareness of the pervasive issue.

Catalytic converter theft occurrences in King County have continued to rise throughout the pandemic as the car parts contain valuable precious metals such as Palladium, Rhodium and Platinum which can be melted down and sold. Catalytic converters are also easy to steal as they can be sawed-out from under a car in a matter of seconds as a Bellevue Police officer demonstrated during the press conference.

Apprehending catalytic converter thieves has proved to be a challenge for law enforcement agencies as the thefts continue and the market demand for the parts continues to rise.

Bothell Police Chief, Ken Seuberlich, said it is difficult to tell whether thieves are acting individually or as part of a crime ring, but he suspects it may be a little bit of both as catalytic converters continue to be stolen and trafficked out-of-state and even out-of-country.

Redmond Police Chief, Darrell Lowe, said not much is currently known about the “purveyors” that are purchasing and profiting off of stolen catalytic converters.

Currently, there is legislation in the state legislature aimed at holding the purveyors of stolen catalytic converters accountable with tighter regulations and penalties for those who buy the stolen car parts. Lowe said a “multi-layered approach” would help in taking on the black market that is driving these theft incidents.

Bellevue Police Chief, Wendell Shirley, said he worries that catalytic converter thieves are becoming more “emboldened” as the thefts continue to go unprosecuted or apprehended. He said there have been certain incidents in which a team of thieves has had someone armed to watch a window or front door to make sure the victim of the theft does not come out and stop them.

Shirley said Bellevue plans to host a program in which community members can get their catalytic converters painted and engraved so it can be identified after being stolen. The hope for the program is that it will deter thieves from stealing painted or engraved catalytic converters as it could be identified and used as evidence for prosecution. He said there would be details about that program in the future.

Mercer Island Police Department Chief Ed Holmes said there have been 37 catalytic converter thefts on the Island since January of 2021.

“Since these crimes impact all of our cities, the task force model has been an effective way to work collaboratively to address these thefts in our region,” said Holmes, adding that detective Samantha Hammer will represent the Island on the task force.

During her city manager’s report at council’s March 1 meeting, Jessi Bon said that officers detained a couple of would-be thieves after alert community members called 911.

The Mercer Island department recently offered the following tips to the community on how to potentially prevent the crime from occurring: Park in well-lit areas; choose parking spaces with good visibility; park near building entrances when possible; and ensure cars alarm are engaged.

The police chiefs and the sheriff urged residents to educate themselves and to call 911 if they suspect a catalytic converter theft.

Reporter Andy Nystrom contributed to this story.